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How Not to Eat Like an Ugly American


How Not to Eat Like an Ugly American: Or, How Best To Pass the Salt

You’d think eating was risk-free, or at least faux pas free. It’s not

Nor is travel, it seems. New Media Travel’s post How Not to Travel Like an Ugly American, highlights some of the cultural land mines that lie in wait for the unsuspecting traveler, such as never bring a dozen roses to a dinner party in Italy. Your hostess will frown at the gesture because it’s “improperly romantic,” and apparently Italians prefer an odd number of flowers.

Who would have thought. The post also provides a “cultural awareness” test for all those who fear being foolish.

Then Budget Travel came out with it’s list of eating etiquette no-no’s, which go beyond not putting your elbows on the table or wiping your mouth with the sleeve of your jacket. But who really would have thought that placing your chopsticks the wrong way in Japan might remind someone of their dead grandmother.

The dean of avoiding such traps is and has been Dean Foster of Dean Foster Associates  who has mapped out the world’s cultural Do’s and Don’ts so the rest of us can travel…and eat in peace, secure in the knowledge that we’ll ask for the salt correctly.

Amanda Ruggeri, who wrote the Budget Travel article, eases us into the apparently arcane world of International Dining Etiquette by adding to the Japanese chopstick story. She tells us that during funerals (some “funerals,” we assume) the rice bowl of the deceased is placed before their coffin, with the chopstick standing upright.

Moving on to Thailand, Ruggeri refers to Leela Punyaratabandhu, a food writer at SheSimmers.com who strongly advises that in Thailand it’s simply not acceptable to use chopsticks at any rice-based meal. Punyaratabandhu calls it, “awkward, inconvenient and tacky.”

In the Middle East, India and parts of Africa, you neither eat with your left hand or even, the article says, touch the dish with your left and, because that’s the hand used for bathroom functions. Having spent time in the Middle East, I can say this is generally true, but not such a rigid rule of etiquette that a mistake would cause intolerable embarrassment.

Back to Italy again, apparently, adding parmesan cheese to pizza is like “putting Jell-O on a ffine chocolate mousse.” In fact apparently in Rome the preferred cheese is pecorino, not parmesan, and if cheese isn’t offered, don’t ask for it.

Of course never say “no” to vodka in Russia and don’t even think of asking for it to be served with ice. Russians drink their vodka neat, but that;s not half-as-bad as turning down the drink when offered, which typically is a sign of trust and friendship.

Check out the entire list for some funny and eye-openng tips and traditions. But finally, trust yourself. Very few countries take themselves or their eating traditions that seriously!

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